A photo of a billboard that reads "the use... and possession of nuclear weapons is immoral," attributed to Pope Francis, and at the bottom of the billboard it reads, "Get them out of Puget Sound!" The billboard displays a photo of USS Jackson, a Trident submarine that carries nuclear warheads.

Rainier Avenue South Billboard Calls Attention to Nuclear Weapons at Puget Sound Submarine Base

The largest concentration of deployed nuclear warheads in the world is less than 25 miles away from this billboard.

by Glen Milner

Four billboards in Seattle and Tacoma recently displayed the following paid advertisement: “THE USE… AND POSSESSION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS IS IMMORAL. – Pope Francis Get them out of Puget Sound!” The billboards serve as a public service announcement reminding these cities of the proximity of nuclear weapons and the grave threat they pose to humanity.

The billboard on Rainier Avenue South, south of South Brandon Street, quotes Pope Francis and calls for getting nuclear weapons out of Puget Sound. (Photo: Alex Garland)

One of the billboards is near the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and South Brandon Street. The billboard image is a photo of the USS Jackson — a Trident submarine with approximately 90 nuclear warheads — in Hood Canal. The submarine is returning from patrol in the Pacific Ocean to the Bangor submarine base on the Kitsap Peninsula, site of the largest concentration of deployed nuclear warheads in the world. The nuclear warheads are deployed on Trident D5 missiles on SSBN submarines and are stored in an underground nuclear weapons storage facility on the base.

From this billboard, it’s less than 25 miles to the Bangor submarine base.

The billboards were jointly paid for and designed by Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic peace movement, and Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. The Pope Francis quote is reminiscent of the historic role of the Roman Catholic Church in its stand against nuclear weapons in the Puget Sound region. In 1981, Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen proclaimed the submarine base the “Auschwitz of Puget Sound.” In 1982, Hunthausen began to withhold half of his federal taxes in protest of “our nation’s continuing involvement in the race for nuclear arms supremacy.’’

On Aug. 5, 2023, Seattle Archbishop Paul Étienne, while in Japan at the remembrance of the bombing of Hiroshima, stated, “My office is 20 miles east of where eight Trident submarines are based — the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal.” 

In 2017, Pope Francis denounced the possession of nuclear weapons by the world’s nuclear-armed nations and called on nations to work together for nuclear disarmament, speaking in support of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. At a Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament, Pope Francis stated that humanity cannot fail “to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices.”

“If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned,” he said.

Of course, the Catholic church is only one of many anti-nuclear voices. Mona Lee is a community organizer and an anti-nuclear-weapons activist who lives near the Rainier Avenue South billboard. 

In 1982, Lee was working at the Bangor submarine base, and while taking a tour of a facility where Trident missiles were assembled, she reached out and touched a missile. Shortly afterward, Lee resigned from her job. She later explained that up until that point, nuclear weapons felt like a distant, theoretical idea. “I was doing like everybody else. Until I touched a missile … [nuclear weapons] was a myth. I think most people really don’t believe it in their hearts. You know what I mean?”

The billboard brings awareness to the fact that, similar to Lee’s experience, we are all touching the missile in one way or another.

Lee recently saw the billboard and reflected, “I left the Catholic Church after college, but I am happy to see church leaders take a strong stand against nuclear weapons and the Bangor submarine base where I once worked.”

This Project is funded in part by the City of Seattle’s Environmental Justice Fund.

Glen Milner is an anti-nuclear-weapons activist and a researcher with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action since 1984.

📸 Featured Image: Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action joined with Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace movement, to purchase billboard space that brings attention to the proximity of Naval Base Kitsap, Bangor, home to the largest concentration of deployable nuclear weapons in the world. The base is only 23 miles away from where this billboard is on Rainier Avenue South. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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